Housing forum focuses attention on housing availability and affordability, major challenges in our state.

We all know someone who has been frustrated by the inability to find affordable housing. While the challenge is most pronounced in Seattle, similar frustrations can be found throughout Washington. In Bellevue Monday, July 8, civic, business and political leaders came together to discuss the problem and identify solutions at a statewide Housing Forum. 

The Association of Washington Business, one of the forum’s sponsors, writes,

Lack of housing of all types is a nationwide crisis, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck said Monday as he opened a housing forum hosted by an unprecedented coalition composed of AWB and nine other groups from throughout the state. Solving the problem, Heck said, will take bipartisan cooperation and a willingness to forge non-traditional partnerships.

State Rep. Andrew Barkis, who has worked in the housing industry for decades, joined Heck in opening up the daylong discussion that drew more than 200 attendees. TVW has video of Heck and Barkis, as well as the keynote address by University of Washington professor James Young.
TJ Martinell, writing in the Lens, devoted two stories to the forum. He writes,

Washington is experiencing a statewide housing shortage problem that is unlikely to change anytime soon, according to Washington Center for Real Estate Research (WCRER) Director James Young. Unless changes are made to accommodate future population growth and the “perfect storm” of retirees outbidding first-time home buyers, 70 percent of city residents will be renters, and almost a third of home sellers will leave the state to buy a more affordable property elsewhere in the country.

That’s the possible future housing landscape in Washington, Young told state lawmakers, U.S. representatives, housing industry members and local government stakeholders at a July 8 housing forum in Bellevue, using data from the state Office of Financial Management.

Read the article for a discussion of the factors driving up prices and limiting availability, including low interest rates allowing buyers to bid up prices without adding to their mortgage costs, a vibrant Seattle job market, out-of-state (and in-state) retirees buying up affordable properties, and an influx of new residents. 

Martinell’s other story examines some of the regulatory factors influencing housing.  For example,

…State Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) offered potential ways to keep the cost of construction down. Barkis is an active member of the National Association of Residential Property Managers and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. He told attendees that “we have fees on everything” related to homebuilding that are collected by cities and counties. He argued the fees should be reduced, though the challenge will be to then “keep the counties and cities whole.”

A similar observation was made at the summit by Jay Robertson with Cascade Homes. “The biggest thing we’re running into now is those fees. They’ve gotten so large I’ve had projects where they needed hundreds of thousands of dollars before we got a permit.”

,,,Possible GMA reforms have also been an oft-discussed path toward improving the housing supply. Under the state law passed in the early 1990s, counties required to plan under GMA are divided into urban growth areas (UGA) and rural areas in which density is concentrated into the UGAs. However, the boundaries have caused problems not only for builders but also for school districts looking to build facilities outside UGA to serve urban students.

On the day of the forum, the Seattle Times reported that Seattle is losing buyers to Tacoma and other outlying communities.

In addition to AWB, the following business and advocacy groups sponsored the forum: the Association of Washington Cities, the Building Industry Association of Washington, Greater Spokane Inc., the Rental Housing Association of Washington, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber, the Washington Public Ports Association, Washington Realtors, the Washington Roundtable and the Washington State Association of Counties.